Omega Alpha | Open Access

Covering the evolving open scholarship movement in religion and theology.

“The public domain is … a disgrace to the forces of evil”

A Fair(y) Use Tale (2007) is a short film by Eric Faden, Associate Professor of English at Bucknell University (Lewisburg, PA). Faden mashed-up clips from several Disney animated movies to create this transformative (and therefore, legal) work to inform about copyright and fair use. The irony that Faden used material from The Walt Disney Company—which vigorously (some would say notoriously) defends its copyright—is not lost on the viewer.

A couple of my favorite scenes:
Starting at 3:13: “No, no, no, no. Wait! Wait.” “Listen carefully. You-can’t-copy-right-an idea.” “Yes, I can.” “You can’t.” “Can.” “Can’t! Can’t! Ca-a-an’t!” “But why?” “Our culture-thought that it would be unwise-to-limit-the-power-of-a great idea.”

Starting at 4:48: “Hey, what the heck is-the-public-domain?” [silence] “Anyone?” [nervous cough] “The-public-domain-is-a disgrace to the forces of evil.” “What are you saying exactly?” “A-work-in-the-public-domain-is-free-for-anyone-to-use.” “Can you do that?” “Yes. It’s-essential-because-our culture-created-new-ideas-by building-on-earlier-works.” “Ah, so-the-public-domain-is-necessary-for-a living, thriving society.” “Duh.” “Unfortunately,-copy-right-keeps-getting-longer,-and there seems to be no-limitation-on-how long-copy-right-lasts.” “It’s called a cruel irony.”

Martin Eve’s Open Access and the Humanities now published; available as free download

In a previous post, I referenced Jonathan Gray’s advance review of Martin Paul Eve’s Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Dr. Eve’s book has now been published, and is available for purchase in print (with all royalties going to Arthritis Research UK), or as a free download from the link above (click on the green “Open Access” button).

I am beginning to read Dr. Eve’s book now over the Thanksgiving weekend (here in the US) and plan to provide a fuller review at a later time.

Here is an interview of Martin Paul Eve conducted by Linda Bree, Commissioning Editor for Cambridge University Press, at the launch of the book:

Jonathan Gray reviews Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future by Martin Eve

OA.EveOpen access for scholarly communication in the Humanities faces some longstanding cultural/social and economic challenges. Deep traditions of scholarly authority, reputation and vetting, relationships with publishers, etc. coupled with relatively shallow pockets in terms of funding (at least compared to the Sciences) and perceptions that the costs associated with traditional modes of scholarly communication are reasonable (at least compared to the Sciences) can make open access a hard sell. Still, there are new opportunities and definite signs of change. Among those at the forefront confronting these challenges while exploring open access opportunities for the Humanities is Martin Paul Eve.

Followers of the blog will be familiar with the name Martin Paul Eve. Dr. Eve is Lecturer in the Faculty of Media Humanities and Performance at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom, and co-founder of the Open Library of Humanities (OLH), an innovative project aiming to build a sustainable model for open access scholarly communication in the Humanities. (I have written about the development of OLH and the work of Dr. Eve on the blog herehere, here, here, and here. [Hover on links for post title and date.])

Martin Eve has written a new book set to be released later this week entitled Open Access and the Humanities: Contexts, Controversies and the Future (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Jonathan Gray, Director of Policy and Research at Open Knowledge got advanced access to Open Access and the Humanities and he posted a review on The London School of Economics and Political Science Review of Books site. The full review is well worth a read. Gray summarizes:

Eve’s book gives a synoptic and multi-layered overview of many of the different factors at play in scholarly communication in the humanities, and offers valuable suggestions about how a transition to open access in the humanities might take better account of these factors, bringing much needed critical and constructive reflection to the contemporary pursuit of a long held dream. It is essential reading for anyone interested in the future of open access and scholarly communication in the humanities, and a rallying call for more researchers to join those working to shape this future.

I am very much looking forward to Eve’s contribution, particularly because, as Gray notes, “[it] addresses an important gap in the recent literature on open access” which has tended to focus on the Sciences.

It is especially noteworthy that in addition to paperback and hardcover editions, Cambridge University Press will release Martin Eve’s Open Access and the Humanities as a freely downloadable open access ebook, following on the successful recent release of Jo Guldi and David Armitage’s The History Manifesto.

Damon Wayans, Sr.: My creative work a “donation” to digital content distributors?!

Yesterday, I was catching up on some of my regular tech video podcasts. One of the shows I like to watch is Triangulation on Leo Laporte’s TWiT network. On this show, Leo Laporte interviews people who have been influential in technology, or who are currently doing interesting things in technology. On Episode #175, which aired on November 10, 2014, Laporte interviewed Damon Wayans, Sr. Wayans is a stand-up comedian, movie and television actor, writer, and producer who has also become involved in developing audio and video applications for iOS and Android.

Wayans told Laporte that his interest in app development stemmed from his desire to give young creative artists tools that will enable them to take greater control of their creative work in the digital space.

The light came on for Wayans when he realized what was happening in this space in relation to content. About 18 minutes in, Wayans makes this interesting comment:

Creating content has become a sucker’s game. The money’s in the distribution, right? I went to my first conference, Digital Hollywood, and I heard a panel where this guy said, “Yeah, we’re going to monetize digital content donations.” And I said, “What? You’re looking at what I do as a donation…that you make money off of?!” So I said, I’ve got to switch up.

The scholarly “switch up”

Wayans isn’t thinking about open access. He wants artists to be able to monetize their digital creative content if they want. But they shouldn’t have to enrich the profits of content distributors while giving their stuff away for the needed exposure, and the (very) slim chance of stardom. The situation Wayans describes—especially the “donation” part (and hopefully not the “sucker” part)—struck me as paralleling the relationship as it still too commonly exists between scholars and publishers in the digital space.

Scholars, especially in the Humanities, are not so much interested in literally monetizing their research content. But they do need venues to gain exposure—if not for stardom, then at least for the reputation that accrues from making a genuine contribution to human knowledge. In order to gain this exposure, scholars effectively donate their creative content to publishers, who then stuff it behind paywalls for their own profit.

Commercial publishers quickly exploited the digital space to perpetuate the control they exercised in the print world, when arguably there were limited options for scholarly exposure. But options are no longer limited. In the digital space scholars have the means and the tools to bring the products of their research directly to their audiences. It takes just a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit. Let’s call it the scholarly “switch up.”

Is there a serials crisis yet? When it comes to Theological and Religious Studies journals, I’d have to say yes

The last time I was in a sustained lazy phase about blogging it was a choice piece of satire written by Dorothea Salo that got me writing again. Who would have thought that Salo would again get me off the couch?

The other day, over on Library Journal’s website, Salo published a short piece entitled “Is There a Serials Crisis Yet? Between Chicken Little and the Grasshopper,” which, as it happens, I read the evening after participating on a panel presentation at the American Theological Library Association’s annual conference in New Orleans. The panel was entitled “Open Access: Responding to a Looming ‘Serials Crisis’ in Theological and Religious Studies.” My role on the panel was to place the case for open access within a context that suggested unsustainable journal pricing was no longer limited to disciplines in the Sciences. Although Humanities journals, including those in Theological and Religious Studies, are still typically priced at a fraction of Science journals, I provided evidence that rapid increases in prices over a relatively short period of time pointed to a looming serials crisis in our disciplines.

The serials crisis is not a new phenomenon. But Salo believes we’ve perhaps allowed the issue to simmer, and it “hasn’t felt like an immediate, all-hands-on-deck crisis in some time.” She thinks it “might finally be heating up into one. Into many, really; the localized nature of serials pricing means that crises hit consortia and individual libraries at varying times, not all of academic librarianship at once.” I would say that a pricing crisis focused within a discipline is another example of this “localized nature.” I appreciated her definition of the crisis situation:

I’ll suggest that the situation with serials has at last reached crisis for a particular library or consortium when two things happen: libraries and publishers can no longer conceal the damage from faculty and institutional/consortial administration, and the broad base of faculty can no longer ignore it.

The damage that can no longer be concealed or ignored is quite simply reduced access, as I put it in my presentation:

When the cost of journals increase dramatically in a relatively short period of time, beyond the capacity of library budgets to keep up, the result is reduced access to research for our users.

Salo would seem to approve of our efforts to raise the alarm within our “localized” disciplinary context:

My sense is that papering over the cracks will stop working very soon for many libraries, if it hasn’t already. … Rather than doing so silently and shamefacedly, little more than a cancellation list buried deep in the library website to mark the event, they explained their action with press releases and showed their work. A few libraries of every size whose budgets haven’t yet hit the wall have likewise chosen to signal publicly in the last couple of years that trouble is near or already here…. I don’t think publicly throwing up our hands over serials prices is defeatist or irresponsible; I think it’s no more than smart public relations. If there’s a single academic library that won’t hit the wall in the next five years (barring miracles), I don’t know which it might be, unless it’s a library whose faculty’s expectations are already so low that they don’t even expect more than a trickle of serials access. Once a library hits that wall, it seems to me that the first question faculty are likely to ask is “Why didn’t you warn us?” The best answer available is “We did.”

Salo doesn’t believe that open access is the only way to cope with the “looming local serials crisis” (her words echoed serendipitously in our panel title). I agree. But open access is one new and viable response that we are trying to offer our disciplines.

Preliminary evidence for a looming serials crisis in Theological and Religious Studies

journal pricesAs I mentioned, when we think of the “serials crisis” we have tended to associate it with journals in the Sciences. Humanities journals, including titles in Theology and Religion are priced at a fraction of Science journals. I threw this table up on the screen from figures I pulled from the 2014 Library Journal Periodical Price Survey. Since Philosophy & Religion journals are so “cheap” we might be tempted to ask, “So what’s the problem?”

To illustrate the problem as I see it, I shared some in-progress research I am doing on title and price changes for Theological and Religious Studies journals published by the Big 5 commercial academic publishers:

  • Elsevier (0)
  • SAGE (21)
  • Springer (8)
  • Taylor & Francis (39)
  • Wiley-Blackwell (21)

In 2014, four publishers publish a total of 89 titles. (The number of titles published by each are listed in the parentheses. Elsevier’s sole title, Religion (ISSN 0048-721X) was transferred to Taylor & Francis in 2011.)

Next, I took two title and price “snapshots”, comparing retail print+electronic institutional subscription prices for the years 2000 and 2014, enveloping a period of 15 years. After eliminating 14 titles not yet published in 2000 and another 27 I was unable to get 2000 pricing on in time for the presentation, I was left with a nice sample of 48 titles.

The total price for those 48 titles in 2000 was $4,632, an average of $96.50 per title. The change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) as a measure of inflation over time from 2000 to April 2014 was +37.7%, an average of +2.5%/year. If inflation was the only price factor, those 48 titles in 2014 should cost $6,378, or an average of $133 per title.

journal prices 2What I found was that those 48 titles in 2014 actually cost $20,904, an average of $435.50 per title. This works out to a price increase of 351.3% in 15 years, an average of +23.4%/year—well over 9 times the rate of inflation! (Incidentally, if you want to purchase all 89 titles they will cost you $43,028.)

The problem that signals a looming serials crisis in Theological and Religious Studies is not the cost of journals relative to more expensive journals in the Social Sciences, or significantly more expensive journals in the Sciences. The problem is the dramatic and rapid increase in cost as a percentage change impacting flat or declining library budgets.

What has accounted for this rate of increase? This is a question I hope to answer more fully as my research continues. To date I have spent the most time researching the interest of SAGE in acquiring journals in Theological and Religious Studies. 20 of the 21 titles currently published by SAGE have been acquired since 2000. While several titles were acquired from other commercial publishers, the majority have been added through publishing partnerships with scholarly societies and academic institutions. Typically, when a society or academic journal is acquired the subscription price rises significantly in the following year or two. As a commercial publisher, SAGE must rationalize all costs of production (excepting, of course, costs for author article submissions and peer review, which scholars provide to the publisher for free) and figure a comfortable profit margin.

The publisher when approaching a society or academic institution will tout its professional publishing services, global reach, royalty returns to support society programming, and leverage of publisher reputation. But you can be sure they’ve done their homework. The publisher is unlikely to acquire a journal property that cannot return a profit. The publisher needs to leverage the established reputation of the journal at least as much as the supposed reputation it is lending to the journal.

When (if) libraries complain, the publisher will contend that the journal was severely under-priced/under-valued when run by the society. They will retort that a journal run by volunteers or subsidized through release time is itself unsustainable, failing to see the sense that a society might prioritize scholarly communication on different criteria and on a different fundamental mission—supporting research production and knowledge dissemination. (Incidentally, in my mind a publisher that entices a society to turn their journal into a source of revenue—even to support other programming—threatens this fundamental mission.)

Dorothea Salo asks, “Is there a serials crisis yet?” When it comes to Theological and Religious Studies journals, I’d have to say yes. It is no solution to claim that Theological and Religious Studies journals are “cheap” compared to other disciplines. The impact of these kinds of price increases is inevitably reduced access to research as titles start getting cut.

Incidentally, one title of the 89 total above is open access. It is the International Journal of Dharma Studies, started at the end of 2013 and published by Springer. I wrote about it here. It is of interest to me to watch this development. As a commercial publisher, Springer will still want and need to see a return on their investment. Their open access solution is to shift cost recovery and profit-making to the producer side of research by levying article processing charges (APCs). The potential for reducing pressure on the consumer side of research could be significant. But I’m not sure if it is ultimately a solution for the serials crisis when we consider the scholarly communication ecosystem as a whole. I will doubtlessly pick this topic up in subsequent posts. In the meantime, thanks again Dorothea for helping me get off the couch and back in front of my computer.



I dropped the “NC” from my Creative Commons License

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but I was finally pushed into action by a post I read this morning on Hugh Rundle’s blog. What did I do? I dropped the “NC”—the non-commercial use stipulation—on the Creative Commons license I’ve been using on my blog. Rundle writes:

Originally I chose a CC-BY-NC license because I didn’t like the idea of some commercial publisher selling my work as part of a package. Partially this was me thinking “If they’re going to charge, I should get a cut” and partially “They shouldn’t be allowed to charge people for my work that I give away for free”. I am sure you have discerned that these two thoughts are contradictory.

Actually, I’ve never cared about “getting a cut.” But as an open access advocate I was definitely concerned that a commercial interest not be able to profit from work that I was giving away for free. I reasoned the added friction of the “NC” would serve as a deterrent.

But upon further reflection, adding friction at this point really only serves to limit others’ access to my thoughts and ideas. Rundle references a thoughtful post on this very topic written by Bethany Nowviskie back in 2011.

Nowviskie points to the fact that ‘non commercial’ licensing is ultimately self-defeating if your purpose in writing is to spread ideas and put arguments, rather than to make money. CC-BY-NC is a smart choice for someone like Cory Doctorow who wants to release his science fiction novels free to read digitally but simultaneously sell them commercially in hard copy with a traditional publisher, but it’s self defeating if your primary aim is to ‘advance knowledge and praxis’.

Here is the key excerpt from the Nowviskie post referenced by Rundle:

I’m just not bright enough to presume to predict financial aspects of future publishing models in the humanities. Limiting my default scope to non-commercial ventures seems presumptuous and naïve. Current presses and projects I admire are struggling, and if any of my content, bundled in some form that can support its own production by charging a fee, helps humanities publishers to experiment with new ways forward—well, that’s precisely why I CC-licensed it in the first place. I also want to minimize my participation in any system that could lead to an “orphaned works” problem. Perhaps there’s a very clear answer to the question of who gives permission on my behalf if I am dead or incapacitated and my heirs are unreachable or unresponsive. My guess, however—since I am no writer of importance—is that, in my absence, any little roadbump on the path to permission will virtually assure my content not be republished. If it’s already becoming evident that more restrictive enfranchisements slow down re-use of Creative Commons-licensed content, and that US copyright law is geared to support the interests of big business—how hard do we expect future small-potatoes humanities editors to try?

However, it would also be naïve to assert that no-one stands to get rich on humanities content. George Williams is right to cite price-gouging in textbook publishing (and I would add bundled journal subscriptions) as a factor that gives pause to potential droppers of the NC restriction. But (and here I’m back to questioning the ethos-to-ego ratio of the humanities scholar), do I really think that drips and drabs of my own content will make a difference in these vast machines? That for-profit or cost-recovery textbook will certainly go on without me—and that means without my work and whatever good its inclusion might have done, for me professionally and for the spheres of knowledge and praxis I want to advance. (emphases original)

In the sharing of ideas, what Rundle, Nowviskie, and I really want—and, I’ll warrant, what most scholars really want—is simply proper attribution. The CC-BY license provides this. And as Rundle points out, the attribution language in version 4.0 has been nicely clarified. Licensing doesn’t minimize the force of an author’s copyright. It only serves to set the conditions under which a copyrighted work can be (re)used without having to first seek permission. I originally chose “NC” as sort-of planting a flag declaring my stand against the commercialization and commoditization of scholarly communication. But I am persuaded that if I have anything to say, actually sharing those ideas, not standing behind a license, is the best approach for making the case. Removing barriers to access—you know, open access—is the best way to get those ideas out.

Journal of Buddhist Ethics celebrates twenty years open access

Journal of Buddhist Ethics

When we decided to found the JBE [the first volume was launched in 1994] we had no idea how it would be received. At that time the concept of an electronic journal was completely novel and colleagues struggled with the notion of a journal with no paper copy. There was nothing like it in Buddhist Studies, and almost nothing in the broader field of Religious Studies. Nor was there any precedent for a journal dealing with Buddhist ethics. In both of these ways the JBE was a “first” and we had no idea whether lacking the resources and credibility provided by an established publisher and an established constituency of readers and contributors it would flourish or simply be a short-lived novelty. Fortunately, the new journal seemed to meet a need, and with the support of the distinguished members of its editorial board soon established itself as a permanent feature in the landscape of Buddhist Studies. … It was always our intention that the journal should be a free and open resource serving the interests of the discipline rather than a privately managed concern. … In a broader context, the JBE has been a contribution to a new model of academic publication, one in which academic authors share their work with their peers without the financial and legal constraints imposed by conventional publishers. (from Damien Keown and Charles Prebish, “Celebrating Twenty Years of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 20 (2013): 307-9.)

The Journal of Buddhist Ethics (ISSN: 1076-9005) is currently housed at Dickinson College (Pennsylvania), which hosts the journal at no cost. The journal site itself is built using open source blogging software. The General Editor (since 2006) is Professor Daniel Cozort (Dickinson College) who is supported by a full editorial team and a board of distinguished scholars. The journal is published in annual volumes, with new articles added continuously as they pass through the editorial and peer review process. Professor Cozort indicated that it often takes less than a month for articles to work their way through this process. Articles are freely accessible to read, and the site maintains an archive of all previous volumes and articles. Authors are not charged a fee (APC) to publish in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics and they retain their copyright, granting the journal a non-exclusive right to publish and to archive published articles.

The scope of the journal encompasses Buddhist ethics broadly interpreted across ten subject areas: Buddhist Monastic Traditions and Jurisprudence, Medical Ethics, Philosophical Ethics, Human Rights, Ethics and Psychology, Ecology, Animals and the Environment, Social and Political Philosophy, Cross-cultural Ethics, Ethics and Anthropology, and Interfaith Dialogue. The journal is listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals and is indexed in the ATLA Religion Database.

As 2013 was drawing to a close, the Journal of Buddhist Ethics celebrated twenty years of continuous publication as a pioneering and highly regarded online open access journal in Buddhist Studies and the larger field of Religious Studies.

Remember Gopher and anonymous FTP?

In an earlier post I reflected on the significance of the year 1994—it was the year I first got connected to the Internet with my Apple Macintosh Classic computer and a 14.4 dial-up modem. I am not fond of thinking how quickly the last twenty years appear to have flown by. But I am amazed both by the developments of computer and network technology in the interim and the insight of scholars who grasped early-on the potential of this technology as a medium for scholarly communication. In the case of Professors Damien Keown (University of London Goldsmiths College) and Charles Prebish (Utah State University and Penn State University), the founding editors, the catalyst for their electronic journal was rejection by traditional academic publishers. As Professor Prebish tells it elsewhere:

I approached a number of university presses about the possibility of beginning a traditional, hardcopy journal devoted solely to research in Buddhist ethics. The disconcerting reality, explained in careful detail by each press, was that small, specialized, scholarly journals were expensive to produce, maintain, and distribute, thus resulting in a major financial loss for the sponsoring press. (Charles S. Prebish, “The Birth of Online Peer-Reviewed Journals in Buddhism: The Story of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics and the Journal of Global Buddhism.” Digital Dharma Conference. Chico, California, November 16, 2011.)

The study of Buddhist ethics as an academic discipline was new in the early 1990s, hence the publishers’ concern about “small specialized journals.” But Professors Keown and Prebish were already in email communication about their respective scholarship in the discipline and it didn’t take long until an alternative to traditional print was proposed: “Why don’t we create an electronic journal?” Keown and Prebish enlisted the aid of Professor Wayne Husted, a Penn State Religious Studies colleague regarding the technical details. Husted suggested that they use light-weight text document distribution protocols like FTP and Gopher, and also web page distribution for folks with (for the time) more robust computer equipment and available bandwidth.

They intended the Journal of Buddhist Ethics to be a full-fledged academic journal in every respect except that it would be freely available for any interested person to read. They solicited “subscriptions,” not to charge for access but to assess interest and to keep readers informed of developments at the journal.

We decided that an academic, peer reviewed, journal should have a proper editorial board of outstanding scholars in the subject area of the journal, so we began identifying and contacting potential editorial board members, hoping to reinforce our own initial notion about the efficacy of the proposed journal as well as solicit the participation of these renowned scholars. Within a month, we had lined up twelve highly respected members of the Buddhist Studies establishment to serve on the editorial board. However, since nobody was certain if a Buddhist ethics journal would be attractive to denizens of the Internet, the newly identified editors conferred, and decided that when announced, it would also be useful to solicit subscriptions from potential readers, asking them to send their names and email addresses. While the Journal of Buddhist Ethics would be free, and indeed not distributed, but instead offered on a “selfserve” basis, this list of subscribers could be used to distribute information regarding materials as they would be added to the continuously published journal. Beyond this, a list of subscribers would be a means of determining how many people were sufficiently interested in the Journal of Buddhist Ethics to make the effort to “subscribe.” (Prebish, “The Birth of Online Peer-Reviewed Journals in Buddhism.”)

By the end of 1994, the journal had over 300 subscribers from 25 countries. By 2001, the subscriber base had grown to over 3,300. The journal no longer tracks subscribers, though notices of publication additions are regularly posted to the H-Buddhism listserv. It turns out they didn’t need a traditional publisher after all.

“Do journals born in this modality survive, thrive and gain success?”

In my previous post I spoke with the editors-in-chief of the recently launched open access International Journal of Dharma Studies, published by Springer. Being primarily experienced with traditional subscription-based journals, the editors wondered out loud about the prospects for success with this new venture. They asked: “Do journals born in this modality survive, thrive and gain success? Is the readership compromised? Are the academic contents compromised?”

For answers, I would point them to the Journal of Buddhist Ethics. A robust readership and high academic quality provide no evidence of compromise, and twenty years of publication history give clear evidence that an open access online journal can indeed survive, thrive and gain success. I love the way Professor Cozort summarizes it: “The Journal of Buddhist Ethics is wonderfully simple and direct.”

Congratulations Journal of Buddhist Ethics at this most auspicious milestone. May your success continue into the next twenty years, and well beyond.

Springer launches first open access journal in Religion: International Journal of Dharma Studies

It was almost two years ago that I received an email from the then publishing editor in Religion and Philosophy at Springer Science+Business Media expressing an interest by the publisher to launch open access journals in Religion. I wrote about the conversation I had with the editor in response to that email back in March 2012.

At that point Springer had no open access journals in Religious Studies, although it published seven subscription-based journals in the discipline. This has now changed. At the end of 2013 the International Journal of Dharma Studies (ISSN 2196-8802) launched on the SpringerOpen platform.

The International Journal of Dharma Studies is affiliated with the Center for Dharma Studies at Claremont Lincoln University, California, which also serves as the journal’s sponsor. The founding Co-Editors in Chief of the journal are Professors Rita D. Sherma (University of Southern California) and Purushottama Bilimoria (University of California at Berkeley and University of Melbourne, Australia). The journal has a complete roster of section editors and an extensive editorial board. Submitted manuscripts are subject to review by at least two scholarly peers, who are provided with clear review guidelines.

The journal takes a multi- and interdisciplinary approach to the study of the Indic Religions (Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism) with the following aims (from the journal website About page):

(i) investigate, present, interpret, and envision the shared and distinct categories of the life-worlds of the Indic Religions, globally, in a (ii) multidisciplinary format with articles from Religious Studies, Philosophy, Ethics, Cultural Studies, Musicology, Film, Contemporary Issues, Sociology, Anthropology, and the Arts, within (iii) a structure that maintains the rigor of conventional academic discourse, but adds methodological contextualization and investigative, epistemic, hermeneutical and evaluative perspectives from these religious and cultural traditions (iv) in conversation with the world’s religions and the concerns of our time.

This journal has been conceived as an interdisciplinary forum for evaluating the contemporary contributions of the Dharma traditions within the context of a new and dynamic setting that acknowledges globalization and global flows of thought.

The journal is organized in an annual volume format with new articles published immediately (and numbered sequentially) as they complete the submission and review process. As of this writing, five research articles have been published in the first volume. Consistent with SpringerOpen’s open access policy, articles are published with a Creative Commons attribution license (CC-BY 2.0) granting full reuse rights, and authors retain copyright.

As with all SpringerOpen titles, the journal is funded through the levy of author-side article processing charges (APCs) instead of traditional reader-side subscription charges. The amount charged per article varies by title from US$680 to $1,890. I spoke with the current publishing editor in Religion and Philosophy about the APC for the International Journal of Dharma Studies, who indicated it would be roughly US$900. However, the aforementioned Center for Dharma Studies at Claremont Lincoln University is subsidizing the publication charges for the journal on behalf of authors. Springer has actively promoted the idea of institutional memberships to underwrite article publication fees that sustain their open access journal publishing model.

“We felt confident to be under the publishing wings of Springer”

I had an opportunity to speak with Professors Bilimoria and Sherma via email about the journal, open access, and their choice of Springer as publisher. It was of interest to me to learn that the initiative to make the International Journal of Dharma Studies open access came from Springer. (This squares with what I was told by the Religion and Philosophy publishing editor, that all new journals launched by Springer needed to be open access.) Bilimoria is Co-Editor in Chief of the journal Sophia: International Journal of Philosophy and Traditions, and the Book Series Editor of The Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures, both of which are published by Springer. So the agreement of the journal founders to move in this direction was based first-off on a longstanding positive relationship with the publisher, not from a philosophical commitment to open access per se.

Bilimoria indicated a preference for a traditionally published subscription-based journal available in print, though he acknowledged that the effective dominance of online distribution and changing access models is making this increasingly unlikely. At the same time, appreciating that grant funding opportunities for Humanities scholars are limited, they wanted to make sure that their authors would not have to bear the financial burden to have their articles published. This is where their sponsorship from the Center for Dharma Studies comes into play.

We felt confident to be under the publishing wings, as it were, of Springer. So it is the motivating ideas behind the journal and the good-will of the particular publisher that have driven us forward, not so much an eo ipso appeal of or to [an open access journal on an online platform].

Confident yes, but this is also new territory for the journal founders. They have questions.

Do journals born in this modality survive, thrive and gain success? Is the readership compromised? Are the academic contents compromised?

Their willingness to move ahead despite these and other questions takes the form of a hopeful experiment—not only for the journal, but also for Springer in moving open access into the Humanities, and with a discipline like Religious Studies.

Professor Bilimoria also addressed these questions to me as an open access advocate. He has invited my feedback as our conversation continues, and I am pleased to share my perspective. But as I thought about his comments I was struck that perhaps the good-will generated in a positive relationship with a reputable publisher might be particularly helpful in building confidence in the values of open access with scholars who are relatively new to this alternative publishing model. Humanities (and Religious Studies) scholars have deep and longstanding traditions in scholarly communication. Relationships with reputable publishers forged in the print era are still deemed important in the digital era. They are understood to validate scholarly quality and lend prestige. I might protest against the tradition of granting publishers an imprimatur, even as I would insist that it is the scholars themselves that bring prestige to research communication. But one step at a time. If Humanities scholars increasingly see well-known and respected publishers embracing open access models they themselves may be encouraged to broaden their traditions to the intentions and advantages of open access. As Professor Sherma added:

We learned that the sciences have embraced open access and the results are a swifter dissemination of critical data. Access to the commons is a great concept and allows for the wide and prompt dissemination of ideas. Why shouldn’t the Humanities and the Social Sciences benefit from this?

Congratulations and best wishes to Professors Sherma and Bilimoria and to Springer at the launch of the International Journal of Dharma Studies. I will continue to watch the development of this journal with considerable interest.

Society of Biblical Literature releases (restrictive) Green Open Access Policy

Founded in 1880, the Society of Biblical Literature is the oldest and largest learned society devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible from a variety of academic disciplines. As an international organization [of over 8,500 members], the Society offers its members opportunities for mutual support, intellectual growth, and professional development (from the website).

The Society of Biblical Literature is publisher of the flagship Journal of Biblical Literature (begun in 1881) and numerous respected monograph series in biblical studies and cognate disciplines. On Friday, January 24, members received an email notifying them that “through the careful review of the Research and Publications Committee, [the SBL] has developed a Green Open Access Policy for authors who contribute to the SBL publishing program.” The full (two page) policy document is available here (PDF).

What is Green Open Access?

The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI), the first formal declaration of the open access movement (endorsed in 2002), identified two principal strategies for achieving open access—that is, the removal of price and permission barriers—to scholarly journal literature. As a shorthand, these strategies are distinguished by color. Gold Open Access refers to the launching of new online journals, which do not charge a subscription fee (costs of publication are covered in other ways), article content is immediately available upon publication and can be variously reused (depending on license; e.g., Creative Commons), and authors increasingly retain their copyright.

Green Open Access refers to author self-archiving or depositing of pre- or post-publication versions of articles disaggregated from the published journal on a personal website or institutional repository. Access to these articles is facilitated by search engine discovery. Because articles are disaggregated from the published journal a subscription is not required to access, but the author can continue to benefit from the journal’s prestige. The publisher may retain the copyright, and depending on licensing, reuse rights of article content beyond reading may be limited. Additionally, access to articles in the repository may be embargoed (delayed) depending on publisher agreements. Green open access is designed to enhance dissemination of author research without jeopardizing subscription revenue of traditionally published journals.

Does this open access policy signal the SBL’s “openness to change” in scholarly communication?

Among the Core Values expressed on the Society of Biblical Literature’s About page is “Openness to Change.” Applied to the area of scholarly communication, openness to change might signal an embrace of open access as a compelling publishing model.

Green open access is a relatively low-risk transitional strategy because it can promote enhanced access options for authors and their readers without requiring any significant change (at the outset) on the part of the publisher. Looking at the policy in the best possible light, this could be a way for the SBL to “test the waters” from which it could then evaluate the impact a growing awareness of open access might have on its traditional publishing operation. However, when one begins to look more closely at the policy it is hard to escape the impression that the SBL wants to be seen as “talking the talk” while throwing up every imaginable disincentive and barrier against the advantages open access is intended to provide. The policy includes 15 stipulations, only two of which are positive permissions. I will highlight just a few.

First, instead of granting automatic permission, an author desiring to post the postprint manuscript* of their article or essay on a personal website or institutional repository must first formally request permission using the SBL Green Open Access Permission Request form (PDF). This permission-seeking step adds friction, effectively discouraging uptake. (*The policy defines “postprint manuscript” as “an author’s version of the article or essay, which has been accepted for publication, following peer review and after revisions have been made, but not the final publisher’s copy.” The policy prohibits posting of the publisher’s copy.)

Second, instead of granting permission to make research articles availably immediately, the policy imposes an eighteen month embargo (delay) on open access availability of an author’s article or essay to a website or institutional repository. There is a lively debate about the length of embargo required to minimize the adverse economic impact of freely accessible articles on publisher revenues. Publishers tend to be adamant, with Humanities publishers especially arguing that research in their disciplines retains impact (and therefore economic viability) for much longer periods than research in the Sciences. A recent industry-sponsored study argues that journal article “half-lives” tend to be longer than generally believed across the board, with the study showing the median “half-life” of journals in Humanities disciplines to be 48-60 months. Extended article impact is not in dispute. This much could be appreciated intuitively. The point is that the delay is another disincentive intended to serve the publisher not the author. The delay discourages the author from exercising control over their own work. As it happens, evidence is lacking that reducing embargo periods threatens subscriptions. And in the case of monographs, to the contrary, making free to read electronic versions available can actually increase sales of print editions.

Finally, the SBL retains copyright to the published work, even after granting posting permission, and does not authorize any reuse options. At this point I can perceive many of my biblical studies colleagues wondering what the fuss is all about. Generations of scholars have been raised in their academic careers on the notion that surrendering (transferring) copyright to a publisher is an expected and non-controversial step in the publication process. The relationship scholarly authors have historically entered into with publishers is concisely articulated in the introductory paragraph of the SBL policy:

Academic, peer-reviewed publishing uniquely serves higher education by setting standards, vetting content and methodology, and disseminating research. Such publishing also is a means of professional development through credentialing for tenure and promotion. Consequently, academic publishers are an essential component of the higher education ecology. In this ecosystem, the stakeholders—scholars, institutions, publishers, libraries, learned societies, and public and private funding agencies—support each other’s role to create a long-term and sustainable system that promotes collaboration and communication.

The assumption underlying this picture of the finely-tuned ecosystem is that it can’t be monkeyed with too much lest it become unsustainable and come crashing down. I am not unaware or unsympathetic of the challenges facing society publishers. But while the Society of Biblical Literature affirms that it “has responded to the changing practices of modern international scholarship by developing a publishing program that provides books in multiple digital formats and books and journals in library databases for convenient one-stop researching” (from the email sent to members dated January 24, 2014), it continues to exercise the control that was born in the print world. Is this really openness to change? Taking academic publishing online is only one aspect of modern international scholarship. Allowing authors to exercise fuller control over their intellectual products is another.

The SBL is involved in other open access initiatives that suggest it is not unaware of the positive potential of this publishing model (e.g., Ancient Near East Monographs Series, or TC: A Journal of Biblical Textual Criticism). Issues of the SBL Forum (no longer current?) archived on the website include several articles from members offering fine, well-reasoned articulations of the benefits of open access (e.g., here and here). In contrast, this Green Open Access Policy feels like it has taken a few steps backward.

“When Obsession With Ownership Outlaws Sharing, It Is The Way of Sodom”: Harold Feld on intellectual property, Jewish ethics, and Aaron Swartz

Thanks to David Weinberger whose tweet this morning directed me to this most interesting post.

I invite you to head over to the Wetmachine: Tales of the Sausage Factory blog, where public interest attorney Harold Feld has posted the text of a speech he delivered as part of a panel discussion on Tuesday evening at The Jewish Study Center, Washington, D.C. on the topic of intellectual property law and Jewish ethics. The panel discussion was inspired by the death (suicide) of internet and open access activist Aaron Swartz. (I posted a tribute to Aaron Swartz back on January 20, 2013 here.)

In his presentation, Feld references “the way of Sodom.” Before getting to the text of his speech he provides this introductory explanation:

I’m copying my speech below. I have elaborated a bit in this version for those not familiar with Jewish traditional sources. In particular, I need to emphasize that Jewish tradition does not regard “the sin of Sodom” as relating to sexual immorality. The “sin of Sodom” and therefore “the way of Sodom” disparaged by the Rabbis, refers to excessive love of wealth that causes cruelty and oppression (see this summary piece here). As Netaneal and Nimmer note in this article, the prohibition against behavior considered “the way of Sodom” acts to limit excessive copyright enforcement even for those who regard copyright as creating a form of property right in Jewish law. In my remarks reproduced below, I focused on the moral and ethical dimension of the prohibition on “the way of Sodom” rather than any practical application in Jewish copyright law. (links original)


“The way of Sodom,” as Feld elaborates in his presentation, comes from a passage (5:13) in the Pirkei Avot, or Ethics of the Fathers, a book of rabbinic ethical teachings covering a period roughly between 200 BCE and 200 CE:

There are four types of moral character. One who says: “what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours.” This is an average person. Some say it is the Way of Sodom. The one who says: “what is mine is yours and what is yours is mine,” is ignorant of the world. “What is mine is yours and what is yours is yours” is the righteous. “What is mine is mine and what is yours is mine” is the wicked.

Much to the surprise of the reader, the Rabbis called the first type of moral character—those who say “what is mine is mine and what is yours is yours”—as “the Way of Sodom.” But why? This attitude strikes us as almost perfectly reasonable, a way to assure a basic proper order in society. Indeed, Feld notes that the Torah speaks approvingly about personal wealth and private property. So what is going on here? Feld explains:

[T]he people of Sodom became so obsessed with controlling their wealth that the absolute control of wealth became the foundation of their morality. Anything that challenged the fundamental idea of “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” became repugnant in their eyes. They viewed the individual who chose to share as not merely deviant and immoral, but a threat to the very fabric of society.

Or, as we might say in modern parlance, sharing challenged the ‘business model’ of Sodom. So much so that the people of Sodom not only wanted to make sure they controlled their own wealth, they wanted to prevent anyone else from demonstrating the value of a rival business model. (emphasis added)

Feld connects this moral character to the contemporary scene:

[T]he obsession of the movie industry, the publishing industry, the pharmaceutical industry and others has created similar warping of our modern law. At the behest of the most wealthy companies in the country—indeed the world—we have laws that punish illegal copying more harshly than we punish swindlers who rob the poor of their pensions. We criminalize technologies that enable sharing because they might be used to violate copyright. We have dedicated units of our law enforcement to patrol for copyright violators instead of focusing those resources on crimes such as human trafficking—and we demand that other countries adopt even more extreme versions of our laws as a precondition of establishing trade agreements. We allow patent holders to sue businesses for using legally purchased off the shelf technologies in good faith. (first emphasis mine)

Feld goes on to see a pitiful expression of this obsession in the prosecution and harassment of Aaron Swartz, who many contend led him, tragically, to take his own life. Feld sees in the tragedy of Aaron Swartz a parallel to a well-known midrash of Sodom:

It is told in both Meschet Sanhedrin and the Midrash Rabbah. A woman took pity on a starving beggar by a well. She hid some bread in her pitcher and gave it to the starving man. The people of Sodom discovered this and brought her before a judge of the land. They sentenced her to be tied to the wall of the city and have honey rubbed in her hair as an example to others. The bees came and stung her to death. As her cries reached the Heavens, the Lord said: “Now is the Cry of Sodom great, and their sin is exceedingly heavy.” (Genesis 18:20)

What did Aaron do?

[He] promoted “dangerous ideas” that encouraged others to think that sharing was good and locking away knowledge was wrong. That was why it was so vitally important to [the federal prosecutors] to get Aaron Swartz to recant and admit guilt of some kind—any kind—and do some form of minimal jail time. Because above all else, they wanted anyone who dared to suggest that sharing might ever be the ethical thing to do be branded a criminal and a threat to society.

The righteous way of “what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours” may be too demanding for many. But Feld contends that even the normal (average person’s) way of “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” is getting pushed dangerously toward “the way of Sodom” as society’s obsessive notions of controlling ownership and property—including intellectual (even scholarly academic) property—loses its ethical mooring, risking a verdict from the Heavens.


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